By Patrick Brogan
The death of four US military members highlighted the fact that the US was running military operations in Niger. This quickly became a story about how President Trump treated the widow of one of these soldiers. The story became about he said-she said, which seems to be a reoccurring theme under Trump’s stewardship. This deflected from the real story. Why were the soldiers there and what were they doing?
The Pan Sahel Initiative was set up in 2002 to stop the spread of Islamic terrorist groups spreading across into North Africa. This was understandable given that 9/11 was the previous year and al-Qaeda were viewed as a global threat. The countries pan Sahel focused were Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad.
There were a number of reasons for this. Firstly, it was felt that the high poverty rates in these countries would make them susceptible to terrorist indoctrination. Then there was the geography. The US military thought the vast open spaces in this area would be ideal for launching terror attacks. Most of these countries have huge Muslim populations, particularly Mauritania which is all Muslim. Analysts believed that none of the radical groups could attach the US or Europe from here, but the powers that be wanted to protect their interests here. We’ll get in that a little bit more later.
Africom, a horrible newspeak word, was created to oversee US military objectives in the region. President Obama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, increased their operations. Servicemen and women were deployed in Niger to stop Tuareg rebels taking over as they had done in Northern Mali.
The US military built a base in Agadez at the cost of $100 million from which they can use drones for surveillance. Interestingly, Niger is one of the few countries that is allowing weaponised drones in its territory. Libya shares a border with Niger and it is heavily monitored. 800 military personnel are currently in Niger with 6,000 in the wider continent. Is there more to this, though?
Africa is a hugely resource-rich continent and this region of it is no different. For this reason, the Chinese have moved in. A Chinese state company has signed a deal with the Nigerien Government to process their natural resources. Many of these can be used to make weapons. China’s foreign policy appears to be more benevolent than America’s and this has got hawks in Washington backs up. Media reports said that Iraq and Iran had sourced uranium in Niger. This later turned out to be untrue. Mali in particular has a history of gold. Musa I of Mali is reported to be the richest person to ever live and his trek to Mecca is believed to have kick started the Renaissance in Europe with the amount of gold he spent along the way.
The Tuareg rebellion, had it succeeded would have been a disaster for American oil companies as they were going to forbid them drilling for it. For this reason, it is believed the CIA were involved in the death of their leader Mano Dayek who died in a suspicious plane crash in 1995.
Is Niger getting caught in the new cold war between the US and China? Possibly. Like every country in this region that has natural resources, colonial powers will inevitably coming looking for it. Also, there is the threat from radical Islam. Interesting how the US cited al-Qaeda as a reason to get involved in Mali and yet, they toppled Gaddafi in neighbouring Libya which led to the rise of ISIS. Very contradictory. Earlier in the article, I used the word newspeak, coined by George Orwell. I can’t help put think that US foreign policy is resembling that of Oceania. Never ending wars for their own sake. Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia.
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